Readers’ wildlife videos: two honking woodpeckers

This is one of the first wildlife videos that have been filmed and sent in by readers, and in this case it shows two showy woodpeckers from South America. It’s a lovely video and comes from reader Pablo Flores, who writes:

I’m just back from a trip to southern Patagonia and caught [he means on camera] some species which you can’t see anywhere else.

This is probably the most showy.

It’s a couple of Magellanic Woodpeckers, [Campephilus magellanicus], first a male (head all red) looking for a grub, then a female (some red around the beak) getting fed. They are in the branches of a lenga beech (Nothofagus pumilio). The Nothofagus genus is interesting from the biogeographic POV: you can find it in southern South America and in Australasia, and there are fossils of it in Antarctica—a sure sign that it originated when all the southern continents were joined.

Some information on the species’ foraging from Wikipedia:

 These woodpeckers commonly feed in pairs or small family groups and are very active in their food searching; they spend most of the daytime looking for prey. They generally use live trees, but also feed on dead substrates such as fallen or broken trees lying on the ground, although generally spend little time doing so. Once the snow disappears from the ground in spring, Magellanic Woodpeckers look for prey on humid lower tree trunks.

I don’t know a lot about birds, so perhaps readers who do can enlighten me about how many species have mated pairs who feed each other like these woodpeckers do.

And look at that thing hammer away! As far as I know, scientists don’t yet understand how woodpeckers can find grubs deep within a tree, but I think it would be relatively easy to suss out the cues.

25 Comments

  1. Diana MacPherson
    Posted February 17, 2014 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

    That woodpecker sure lets that tree have it! I know there have been many studies on why woodpeckers avoid concussions & I’ve read about such studies being used to make better helmets for football.

    • ROO BOOKAROO
      Posted February 17, 2014 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

      Not just the protection of the brain and cervical vertebras is remarkable. But the neck muscles must have extraordinarily strength and endurance.

  2. Posted February 17, 2014 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

    Cardinal males will pass a sunflower seed to the female (obviously this is seen at our feeder). Prior to that stage of cardinal love the male (this year) spends a great deal of time smashing its beak into our front windows to vanquish that impossible to vanquish male in the glass. He’ll take a break, get some snacks from the feeder, and then get back to the implacable foe. The female, in the meantime, completely ignores all the heroics. Sounds familiar.

  3. Posted February 17, 2014 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

    My head hurts just from watching!

    I wonder what the tree’s reaction is. On the one hand, that woodpecker is doing some serious damage to the bark. On the other hand, it’s probably not as bad as what the bugs would do if they didn’t get eaten….

    b&

    • Posted February 17, 2014 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

      Woodpeckers attack trees only after the trees are infested by insects – therefore no unnecessary head banging. Sometimes the males get into serious head banging to make themselves attractive to female woodpeckers. Flickers (and other species) can really rip up the siding of a house because it makes such an attractive sound. I lived in one of those houses once and the drumming of the woodpeckers (flickers in this case) drove everyone crazy (especially the landlord).

      • Posted February 17, 2014 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

        In fact, leaving a dead tree stump in one’s garden is a good way of attracting woodpeckers and other wildlife. Best to keep the dead tree parts at a distance from the house, to avoid infestation of the house by termites.

        • Posted February 17, 2014 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

          Or, rather than cut down a tree just to have the stump, you can use any log for that purpose. Contact the local power utility, arborist service, or the like and they’ll probably be happy to deliver the next one they take down to you. They’re great at creating micro-habitats for all sorts of critters, not just woodpeckers.

          b&

          • Posted February 17, 2014 at 7:42 pm | Permalink

            Yeah, that’s kinda what I meant, Ben…. keeping as much of a dead tree, all chopped up into manageable bits, that one can afford to stash in one’s yard.

            • Posted February 17, 2014 at 7:51 pm | Permalink

              I kinda thought as much…I just didn’t want people to get the idea that they should cut down one of the trees they already have just to turn it into a log, without discouraging them from doing what they reasonably can to have a fallen log in the garden.

              b&

      • Posted February 17, 2014 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

        I’ve heard a few Gila Woodpeckers banging their heads on roof-mounted airconditioning units — though, fortunately, not in my neighborhood. I can only imagine what it would be like, to hear what sounds like a jackhammer coming from every A/C vent in the house….

        The gilas around here are pretty noisy, with a somewhat obnoxious call, but there aren’t enough of them for them to be annoying.

        I’ve actually heard a couple mockingbirds warming up the past couple days. Then again, it’s already 85°F here….

        b&

  4. Posted February 17, 2014 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

    I am reminded of the description in the WEIT book about the intricate adaptations used by woodpeckers to avoid brain damage.
    When the woodpecker in the video is probing for ‘something’ in the wood, what it is probably doing is using a surprisingly long, barbed tongue to probed deeper into the hollow areas of the dead wood. This tongue is actually wrapped around its skull (!)

  5. Lars
    Posted February 17, 2014 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

    I don’t know if they directly fed one another (the shapes of the bills makes it difficult to picture), but apparently males and females of the New Zealand Huia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Huia) were pretty-much obliged to split up the task of foraging.

    • Lars
      Posted February 17, 2014 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

      Eurgh, my mistake – this was more a matter of intraspecific niche partitioning than actual cooperative feeding.

  6. Posted February 17, 2014 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

    Wonderful video.

  7. Posted February 17, 2014 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

    Great little video!

  8. Hempenstein
    Posted February 17, 2014 at 5:18 pm | Permalink

    Cool video. The female’s pretty svelte (Goth?) with her black feather-do.

    I like woodpeckers and keep three suet feeders stocked for them here in Pittsburgh. They seem quite satisfied with them. But my favorite color is green and so I’m envious that Europe has green ones, & just found this video of some of those.

  9. Posted February 17, 2014 at 7:02 pm | Permalink

    This species of woodpecker is the real-life inspiration of the 60’s Disney cartoon character Woody Woodpecker. Disney even got his trademark call/rattle from the real bird.

    • Posted February 18, 2014 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

      Pretty loose interpretation, though – Woody Woodpecker has a yellow beak, white fluffy “collar”, a white chest and blue plumage… I think that the Ivory-billed Woodpecker would have been a slightly better candidate.

      Interesting little video

    • Posted February 18, 2014 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

      With regard to his trademark call/rattle, it seems to have been inspired by the Acorn Woodpecker:

      http://birdnote.org/show/acorn-woodpecker

    • Posted February 18, 2014 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

      Woody Woodpecker was created by Walter Lanz in 1940, and never was a Walt Disney cartoon character.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Woody_Woodpecker

      • Posted February 18, 2014 at 7:34 pm | Permalink

        Oops! Also, I see there is really not much similarity between the real bird’s call and the TV character’s call. Birders have often assumed that the Magellanic Woodpecker was the inspiration because of the solid red head and forward-curling crest, but you are right, one could just as well focus on some other character and come up with a different answer.

  10. Posted February 17, 2014 at 9:48 pm | Permalink

    Female hornbills wall themselves inside a tree cavity during incubation, presumably as a defense against similar sized predators. The male hornbills must regularly bring food to his companion if she is to successfully incubate the eggs.

  11. Paul
    Posted February 18, 2014 at 8:38 am | Permalink

    I have several times watched male Pileated Woodpeckers whacking away at dead stumps in the douglas-fir bush behind my house (in s. BC) and feeding discovered grubs to the female. They are pretty tame around here, and they seemed unconcerned by my open presence only ~30 feet away

  12. John Scanlon, FCD
    Posted February 20, 2014 at 7:25 am | Permalink

    Re Nothofagus, the obvious and widely accepted historical interpretation of its biogeography has taken a blow from molecular phylogenetics. It turns out the extant lineages are too closely related, and in the wrong pattern, for their distribution to be explained by vicariance alone. Darwin would not be surprised!

    Knapp M, Stöckler K, Havell D, Delsuc F, Sebastiani F, et al. (2005) Relaxed molecular clock provides evidence for long-distance dispersal of Nothofagus (southern beech). PLoS Biol 3(1): e14.


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